Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA) responds: the best defense is a good offense...

Error message

(This post is the follow-up to an earlier post which should be read first. The earlier post is titled "Christian Medical and Dental Association doesn't want abortion to divide Christians...".)

Last week, we heard from Christian Medical and Dental Association's CEO, Dr. David Stevens. He responded to our earlier post (detailing CMDA's punitive actions toward a dental student who taught a pro-life position in CMDA's Bible study) by laying out his subordinates' explanations of their actions. Thus, his communication with us was simply a number of bullet points, criticizing the dental student's teaching method and character.

There was no acknowledgement that CMDA was wrong in disciplining the student for his pro-life commitments. In our earlier work seeking a resolution to this matter, this is the response we had gotten from CMDA regional and national staff, so we weren't surprised Dr. Stevens continued this line of defense.

The same day we heard from Dr. Stevens, World Magazine contacted us asking for more information. We declined, explaining that we wanted first to work toward a private resolution.

Despite efforts to work on the matter privately, including speaking to Dr. Stevens by phone, there has been no indication that CMDA is willing to correct its actions. 

Since CMDA's CEO is defending his staff's failures by attacking the dental student, we believe this student deserves others coming to his defense, and we are pleased to do this for two reasons: first, we know this student well; and second, the criticisms of this student being circulated by Dr. Stevens and his subordinates are so disingenuous and sloppy, it's simple to prove them wrong.

* * *

In his email, Dr. Stevens denied that CMDA's removal of "John" from teaching their Bible study had anything to do with John teaching against abortion. Rather, he claimed "John" was a bad teacher and the Bible study was suffering under his leadership.

John's real name is Abram Hess. He is a second-year student at Indiana University School of Dentistry, a husband, the father of two beautiful girls, and an ordained officer in Christ's church. I know Abram, personally: he is a member of the church I pastor and I've known his family for most of my life.

Dr. Stevens writes:

I was saddened last night to learn of your blog about CMDA and to read it this a.m. ...I wish after hearing from Abram, you had talked to the other student leaders, our campus advisor, our regional director or in your phone call with Dr. Scott Ries, given him the opportunity to provide you the other side of the story.

Yes, we wish we had spoken with the regional director too, but it wasn't for lack of trying. My father wrote two emails to Mr. Harmer seeking to resolve the situation, privately. Here is the first:

Dear Allan,

May God bless you with a day of worship in spirit and truth as we celebrate the Lord's Day with the people of God. It's been years since we worked together on the Euthanasia Forum here at IU. I'm sorry we haven't had the opportunity to see one another since but I trust all is well with you and yours, dear brother.

I write to encourage you to deal kindly with Mr. Abram Hess who has been asking for your help with a sad situation in your CMDA student group at the IU School of Dentistry. You know all the details necessary to come to Mr. Hess's assistance through the lengthy e-mail he sent you.

Mr. Hess is a good man; he grew up in our congregation here in Bloomington and, now that he lives in Indy, he is a member of the congregation served by my son, Joseph Tate Bayly VI. Thus we Baylys are following this case with particular interest and hope that Dad's work to bring CMDA finally to declare its opposition to abortion will not falter.

Warmly in Christ,

Mr. Harmer's response was angry and accusatory: "[Abram] has attempted to harm me and my career with CMDA." Despite this response, Dad tried again:

Dear Alan,

Probably it would be best for you to give me a call at your convenience. My cell number is ... and I'm happy to take your call, dear brother. This situation is at an impasse and I'm hopeful you and I may be able to find a solution. Abram is, as I said, a good man and I'm certain you and he can find a way forward.

Let me reassure you that Abram is the picture of discretion and is neither hostile nor pugnacious. Rather, he cares very much for the honor of Christ and the defense of the oppressed.

Warmly in Christ,

So, contrary to Dr. Stevens's complaint against us—that he "wished (we) had talked to (his) regional director"—we tried, but his regional director wouldn't call us.

Did Dr. Stevens know we tried?

We doubt it. Stevens seems to be dependent upon his staff for every statement in his email, and we doubt his regional director, Allan Harmer, notified Stevens of Dad's above emails or of Dad's request that Allan give him a call.

So then, not having heard from Harmer, Dad moved up the ladder of CMDA's staff to Dr. Scott Ries, and they talked by phone. Repeating what Dr. Ries had reported to him about that conversation, Stevens writes: "I wish your phone call with Dr. Scott Ries, (you had) given him the opportunity to provide you the other side of the story."

Dad tells me after a few minutes of explanation of the situation to Dr. Ries, a request for Ries's help, and a suggestion concerning how everyone could back up and start over, he listened as Dr. Ries went into a monologue that continued for twenty minutes or so, during which Ries was quite intense and focused himself exclusively on attacking Abram Hess and pronouncing CMDA's perfections.

Thus, Dr. Stevens's complaint that we didn't give Dr. Ries "the opportunity to provide (CMDA'S) other side of the story" is humorous. Dad heard that other side. Loudly. Clearly. Intensely. And since then, I've heard Mr. Harmer and Dr. Ries's story once again, this time from Dr. Stevens himself. It was becoming clear that CMDA was settled on their best defense being a good offense against Abram Hess, and they had no intention of correcting anything.

Dr. Stevens writes:

...we collected further information from those involved. Let me summarize that for you:

Abram was asked to step down from his leadership role not by CMDA but by the student leadership team at the dental school. The comments that Abram asserts Alan Harmer said were made by a student leader and our quoted out of context. (Our campus ministries are run by a team of student leaders numbering 3-5.) 

"Not by CMDA?" The student president of the CMDA chapter at IUSD represents CMDA in that capacity, and therefore his actions are the actions of CMDA, unless and until CMDA corrects them. It's that correction we have been hoping for all along.

Beyond Stevens's claim that the actions of CMDA's chapter president are not the actions of CMDA, we remind the reader that the chapter president himself made a large point of the fact that he had "extensive consultations" with Dr. Harmer surrounding Abram Hess's removal from leadership. The chapter president cited Mr. Harmer's counsel in his justification of leading the IUSD chapter to shy away from any teaching on abortion. He told Abram that, while he had been teaching, he had simply skipped all discussion of abortion in the CMDA book which was the curriculum for the Bible study group.

Here is an interesting section from the CMDA Leadership Commitment Form which we presume both CMDA's chapter president and CMDA's regional director, Allan Harmer, have signed:

D. Support for CMDA Position Statements
The CMDA House of Representative and/or the Board of Trustees approve the official positions held by CMDA on ethical and scientific issues. While these positions are not binding on the membership, when serving in a CMDA capacity, leaders must agree to refrain from undermining these positions. This does not preclude leaders from seeking a change in these positions within the proper channels of CMDA.

And what is CMDA's policy concerning those who undermine its commitments? Was Mr. Harmer powerless to act to correct the chapter president's gagging of Mr. Hess's pro-life witness? Are Drs. Ries and Stevens powerless to act to correct the betrayal of CMDA's pro-life position statement on Allen Harmer's watch?

J. Consequences
Leaders in willful violation of the policies of CMDA are subject to disciplinary action including removal from leadership or membership. Leaders in disagreement with these policies should seek to resolve his/her disagreement, and resign if resolution is not possible.

So, although there are ample remedies spelled out in CMDA's bylaws, those remedies are not used because CMDA doesn't have a problem. Abram Hess has a problem and CMDA will keep asserting it's all his fault until the issue is forgotten and people move on.

Dr. Stevens writes:

He got into his leadership role when last years student leaders asked for "volunteers" from among the finishing first years to provide leadership for this year. Abram volunteered

After two public requests for volunteers, toward the end of the first semester Abram told "Fred" he would be willing to lead a lesson and Fred seemed pleased, responding to Abram, "I actually had you in mind when I made that announcement."

The next semester, Fred asked Abram to teach a second time. Following that lesson, when Abram tried to return the book to Fred, Fred's reply was to the effect of "No, you're doing a good job. How about you keep it and lead again next week?" After Abram had taught three lessons, it became clear Fred intended for Abram to continue teaching for the foreseeable future. This was the start of Abram's short teaching career of 8 lessons at CMDA.

What expectations does CMDA have for its leaders?

Our policy is that all student and graduate leaders are to sign a statement that they will support and promote CMDA's ethical positions. There are now around 50 of those developed by our ethics committee, and approved by the board and our House of Representatives.

This is a wise policy, but is it enforced?

Dr. Stevens writes:

The reason Abram was privately asked to step down was because his leadership and teaching was not going well. It was not what he said, which is in agreement with our positions, but how he said it. We want to get students thinking and processing so our teaching is interactive with a facilitator leading and directing the discussion. Abram insisted on a didactic approach.

This is kind of like the game of telephone. Things never seem to make it through without getting all garbled up, but it's funniest when they come out opposite, like this. Actually, Abram took pains to draw out other students and facilitate discussion. For instance, there was the discussion he led that became very lively indeed when it touched on the subjects of greed and wealth, a fitting subject for future dentists. Discussion was the norm, but in one lesson Abram was didactic.

Coming to the topic of abortion, Abram knew that it was a subject where there is much opposition to the Word of God, even among some who claim the name of Christ. So, because of the sensitivity of the subject, and how commonly it touches the lives of those present, he decided the wisest course of action would be to limit discussion in that lesson. His hope was to preserve the unity of the group by avoiding potential arguments over a deeply personal issue, and the hurt feelings and strained relationships that might result from such arguments.

Whether he was right or wrong about that tactic for preserving unity, it's clear Abram didn't "insist on a didactic approach." It was one lesson only that caused Abram to be removed from teaching—the lesson on abortion.

Dr. Stevens continues:

It also involved how he interacted with the CMDA chapter in his leadership role that led to the student leaders decision. Students attending were not only complaining but stopping attending the meetings. This decision was not the result of one session he taught that dealt with abortion as he asserts but what has been happening under his teaching and leadership since the academic year began.

Dr. Stevens explains that, over the course of a school year, Abram took the chapter and drove it into the ground. This was an emergency rescue action, right?

Well actually, Abram was just another attendee until December, when he taught just one lesson, and here is the feedback he received via text message from the student president:

"hey abram, just wanted to let you know I really enjoyed your leadership in CMDA today! you did a great job and it was a good message that we needed to hear"

Abram wasn't made the regular teacher until the end of January. So somehow, in February and March (which included spring break), he managed to accomplish the following:

  1. Abram lead one of the most lively discussions of the year.
  2. He arranged and hosted a special guest speaker for one weekly meeting—a local pastor whose church has a free dental clinic for the needy. This meeting had the highest attendance of the semester and received a great deal positive feedback.
  3. Generally, Abram got lots of positive feedback and thanks from students, leaders and faculty.
  4. Abram received no negative feedback from anybody.
  5. And yet, Dr. Stevens claims Abram's last five lessons were so awful, compared to his first three lessons, that he needed to be removed. Without warning or explanation.

Dr. Stevens writes:

One of the student leaders and the faculty advisor met privately with Abram for over an hour and with kindness tried to deal with this issue. They did not want to hurt him or embarrass him. At first he seemed to accept the suggestion that he could just step down because of expecting their first child. He even thanked the group for all he had learned in his role.

No, Dr. Stevens, you've got it wrong.

Fact: There was never a meeting between the student leader, faculty advisor and Abram at all—much less one where they attempted to gently explain his failures.

Fact: Abram was the one who informed the faculty advisor that he had been relieved of his teaching responsibility. She had no idea.

Fact: The faculty sponsor expressed disappointment concerning his removal, saying she had been looking forward to hearing him teach again and she thought he had been doing a good job.

Two months after Abram's last leadership of the study, Fred asked to meet with him. Fred was effusive in his praise and thanks of Abram's work as a teacher and Abram came away from the meeting thinking that he would continue on in leadership, although now as a member of a team. Also, Abram expected to be given a bit of a respite because of the coming baby.

It wasn't until the beginning of the next school year, after Abram and his wife's baby was born, that it became clear to Abram he was not going to be asked back.

At that point Abram requested a meeting with Fred. Abram asked, "Did I misunderstand you at our previous meeting? Am I going to be asked to help lead, or not?" Fred began his response again talking about his gratitude for the work Abram had done the previous year. Then, at the end of their meeting, Fred said, "Allan (Harmer) told us that CMDA has established procedures for selecting student leaders, and we've decided to implement those procedures to select the new group of student leaders."

The implication was that Abram hadn't made the cut, so now, five months later, Abram asked what he'd done wrong and Fred responded that Abram's style was too didactic and not promoting group discussion. Since it was contrary to the facts, Abram pressed Fred for more information and Fred finally came out with it, telling Abram that his teaching had been a threat to the unity of the group and they were worried about attendance suffering because of it. Abram responded by asking how his teaching had been divisive? The only example Fred gave was Abram's teaching on abortion. The rest of their conversation focussed on whether abortion should even be taught about in the Bible study.

Dr. Stevens writes:

Unfortunately, before the meeting was over (Abram) became argumentative and angry. He pressed for "proof" and would not accept their counsel. He later wrote e-mails and copied them to others and made accusations that were simply not true escalating and worsening the situation.

The conversation with Fred did become a heated conversation, but not until Fred argued that abortion was not an appropriate topic for the CMDA Bible study. Hearing this, Abram was shocked and distressed.

And what about those "accusations" Abram "wrote" and "copied to others?"

There were none. Instead, in his email to Allan Harmer, Abram clearly indicated that what he was recounting was hearsay only, and that he hoped it wasn't true. In that email, he copied Allan's boss and a few others who already knew exactly what was going on. But prior to this email, Abram had spoken to them directly.

Dr. Stevens writes:

CMDA's regional has been trying to schedule a meeting with him to listen to his concerns and address them. Our goal then and now is to try to meet the Christian student community needs and Abram's needs as well building him up and helping him to be all that God designed him to be. I know from personal experience as a student and resident that zeal can sometimes cloud judgement. As a young man, I rejected constructive criticism and tried to blame others. I'm thankful for those in my training and as a young missionary who pulled me aside and gave me Godly correction. Abram's motives and desires to serve are admirable. His passion for truth is wonderful. They will serve him well especially if he is willing to mold them with Godly counsel from peers and those in authority over him.

I have also personally experienced zeal, and more often pride, clouding my own judgment. I'm sure Abram has as well. But in this case, Abram requested, received, and followed counsel from three pastors and an elder—men from three different churches in two different denominations.

It's laughable for Dr. Stevens to characterize Mr. Harmer as "trying to schedule a meeting with (Abram)." Harmers's first response to Abram's email was something of a snarl, accompanied by demands. He was hardly "trying to schedule a meeting" and his email demonstrated no willingness " listen to (Abram's) concerns." Mr. Harmer was rude, angry, and aggressive, and here is how he ended his email to Abram:

I expect you to contact me this afternoon. My office phone is listed below and my cell is: ....


After the meeting with the student president, Abram went to the faculty sponsor, but the faculty member was completely in the dark. An appeal was then made to the Regional Director, and when the regional director was rude, angry and aggressive, another appeal was made to his superior, who behaved similarly.

Now, after we have brought this issue to the attention of our readers, CMDA has doubled down by attacking the character and ability of a godly dental student whose only desire from the first was (and is) that CMDA's position against abortion be taught at the local level in the student chapter he was involved with. As I wrote before, the local level is where the mettle of a national organization is tested.

We wish we hadn't needed to repeat the above attacks upon Abram Hess, but we could see no way to defend his good name and character without publishing what CMDA is saying about him.

In the next day or two, I will post some pastoral thoughts concerning the lessons to be learned from this sad episode.

This post has been renamed, resulting in the social media stats reverting to zeros.

Joseph and his wife, Heidi, have five children, Tate, Eliza Jane, Moses, Fiona and Annabel. He graduated from Vanderbilt University and Clearnote Pastors College. He is currently planting Christ Church in Cincinnati with several other families.